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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Experts mull face transplant bid
Isabelle Dinoire
Isabelle Dinoire underwent a partial transplant last year
Ethics experts at a top London hospital will meet on Wednesday to discuss whether to approve the world's first full face transplant.

A team led by Professor Peter Butler at the Royal Free Hospital believes such an operation is now possible.

However, it could months before they know whether they will be given the green light to proceed.

The prospect offers hope to people with severe facial injuries - but is fraught with moral and practical difficulties.

It's only going to be for a very few people
Iain Hutchison

The experts will consider whether the surgery and subsequent suppression of the immune system is safe, and whether it is likely that patients will be able to cope with the pyschological impact.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who suffered horrific burns in the 1982 conflict, is due to accompany the medical team to the meeting to explain why he thinks doctors should be allowed to perform face transplants.

He used to oppose the procedure but has since changed his mind.

He told the BBC: "It is another option. It is not going to be the first option that is always offered, but neither should it always be the last.

"It should be judged on each and every individual case. What we have to look at is providing people with options so they can live their lives fully."

For the past five years Mr Butler has been researching tissue rejection and psychological issues as well as concerns surrounding identity.

Patient selection

Last year he was given permission to identify a patient who meets the selection criteria.

Twenty-nine potential patients have been identified, but the final selection process has not yet begun.

Iain Hutchison, a facial surgeon and the founder of Saving Faces, a facial surgery research charity, said face transplants would happen - but only infrequently.

"Face transplants are going to happen but it's important that the public realise several things.

"First of all, this is not for cosmetic reasons, this is not for people in witness protection programmes, this is for people with serious facial burns.

"There are patients who can have it, but it's only going to be for a very few people.

"There are going to be very few donors and we will have to study the impact on the patients, their family and the donor's family for a long period of time."

Partial transplant

Last November a French woman received a section of nose, lips and chin in a partial face transplant carried out by a team of surgeons led by Professor Jean-Michel Dubernard.

Isabelle Dinoire, 38, underwent the procedure after being mauled by the family labrador.

A 50-strong team of medics in Amiens, northern France, worked around the clock to perform the transplant.

The organs were taken from a donor who was brain dead, with the family's consent.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The same as any other transplant, you're using someone elses tissue to replace your own
Sethaen, Kent, UK

In 2003 the Royal College of Surgeons voiced concerns about face transplants concluding in a report that more research was needed into the psychological impact on recipients and the donor family.

They also said greater understanding was needed about the drugs the patient would have to take for the rest of their life to stop their new face from being rejected.

The surgery would require the removal of eight different blood vessels, four arteries and four veins from the donor and attaching them to the patient's face by reconnecting the tissue.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
First face transplant patient talks about her experience



SEE ALSO
Woman has first face transplant
30 Nov 05 |  Health
US plans first face transplant
19 Sep 05 |  Health

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